My friend Misha invited me to attend a guest lecture in her graduate level neuroscience class last week. The presentation was titled "Study of Deaf Ci Users by using PET." I really enjoyed the chance to make myself presentable (I ditched my mom outfit) and be in a totally different environment. It didn’t take long to figure out that I would walk away understanding about 3 of the concepts in the presentation, but that didn’t keep me from listening intently and taking some notes here and there. Looking at slides of the brain and hearing about changes in glucose metabolism in the left middle occipito-temporal junction is a little too "cerebral" for me at this point.
Here are the 3 things that stuck with me:
1. From a neuroscience perspective, Ci users are a great modality to study sensory deprivation AND recovery. (True, makes sense to me anyway)
2. After Ci surgery, there is major enhancement of nonverbal cognitive functions and working memory as well as an increase in visual spatial processing. (Um, WOW!)
3. In terms of cross modal plasticity, sign language can activate the auditory association cortex. (Okay, very cool, but brings up some serious questions)
I put Misha on task to talk to her professor about that last point. There was no need as she and I have the same question: does sign language help or hinder the development of spoken language in deaf children? Can that question even be addressed by current research?
This is a biggie for those of us who parent or work with Ci children. The dominant and prevailing theory is that of the Auditory Verbal method of speech therapy. This type of therapy is extremely successful with Ci kids and I love most of their methods and ideas. However, AV therapy strongly discourages the use of sign. They believe that using sign is counterproductive because the point is to put all the focus on audition and developing the auditory center of the brain. And while I haven’t read the research they cite (don’t need to really), Rich and I have decided that doesn’t make sense for Ethan or our family. So we practice many of the AV ideas in our therapy and in our home, but we also continue to use sign.
Proponents of using sign with deaf babies say they have their own research to cite, proving that signing actually helps with language development. I have not read their research either. Again, don’t have to. (But would like to someday)
I feel that I have to let go of everything I hear/read from the science, medical, and speech and language community, and just make the decision that I know in my gut is right for my son and his circumstances. That’s what parenting any kid, hearing or not, is all about.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bowl of rice pudding waiting…